Tuesday, January 31, 2012

(Un)Lucky Stiffs - Part 3 - Hookers and Hussies

Least my previous two posts on Lucky Stiffs suggest that all was gloom and doom, I should point out that, with a good crew and Matt's calm direction, we had a number of good days.  It was, after all, a comedy, and comedies can have intended, and unintended, humorous elements.

This post will deal with some of the lighter moments.

When I came back to NY, Maureen and I were living in NY's Hell's Kitchen (although the city fathers would prefer I use the newer title Clinton, I prefer Hell's Kitchen and all the sordid history that went with it).  This is the Theater District and just south and all-the-way west to the Hudson River, where after the theaters were long closed, entertainment remained vibrant.

We started the shoot with some locations in Brooklyn, along the waterfront, and in New Jersey.  One of the more talented PAs I mentioned, Stacey, was assigned to pick me up and get me to set.  Although technically the 2nd AD is first-on-and-last-off, this was still early in my career and I was motivated (in no small part by fear of failure) that I had to oversee everything.  Capricorns.  As such, I wanted to get there before the crew vans to make sure all was well.

The rides with Stacey were great.  She had started out in theater as a stage manager - just like me!  All these years, I have loved to bring stage managers into the AD department; the temperament and skill sets required are very similar.  The differences can be learned.

The two key things I look for in potential production people are intelligence and enthusiasm.  Stacey had  both of these plus leadership skills, maturity, and the willingness to take responsibility.

The first couple of days of any shoot tend to be exterior day, and ours were no different.  This is for a couple of reasons, many of which are obvious to production veterans, but I will point out anyway.

As you go later in the day, it becomes harder to start early.  This is because, even with non-union crew, you want at least a ten-hour turnaround for crew, and must have twelve hours for cast. You want to get those beautiful sunrise (or magic hour) shots done early.  You also want to shoot  day exteriors early to avoid weather problems later on.

On lower-budget films, these scenes often use little or no lighting, only diffusion and reflectors to control "available light" (also known as the sun).  This means it's a good chance to get things moving while the crew and cast settle in.

This also means that your early shoot days have those un-godly call times, such as 5AM or 6AM.  We had our share of these, and Stacey would be picking me up in front of the brownstone I lived in before sunrise.

Hells Kitchen, in those days, had its own special brand of graveyard-shift freelancers, known commonly as hookers.  As I would sit outside, there was one hooker who always passed on the way home.  She later told me that at first she thought I was a detective, especially seeing me getting into the car.  She thought the cane might have been a prop.

After a while, though, she felt comfortable coming up and talking to me.  Yes, her first question involved a date, but after she realized that wasn't happening, she took to just chatting with me.  We would talk about how each of our respective jobs was going - her bad nights were worse than my bad days.

Stacey stoically would pick me up as my hooker friend would wave goodbye.  Stacey's evil grin grew day-by-day, along with her "I'm not going to ask, JB.".  Once we would get past the snicker, we would talk production, and she always got me to set calm and prepared.

Once on set, there were not only the production issues but the cast.  There was talent, and there was insanity.

One moment strikes me as indicative of the insanity that went on behind the cameras.

The script revolved around a jewel heist.  Two young slackers want to plan the heist, and they plan it with an older "experienced" criminal.  Turns out they could have made a better choice, as their veteran had issues.

He also had a moll.

I find myself using some older, classic terms in this post; moll, hussy.  Today, we tend to be more graphic or judgmental.

Hussy and moll are two phrases from a by-gone era, but they better represent the femme-fatales in this movie.

The older, experienced thief was played by "Broadway Bobby" Downs.  Sadly, Bobby is no longer with us - more on him later - but he had a wonderful "Moll," who I will refer to by her character name, Angela.

"Moll" was a polite term used in the old studio days for the girlfriend of a mobster.  It's origin is multi-fold; it comes both from the suggestion that she carries a gun, and "moll" is short for Molly, an Olde-world euphemism for prostitute.

See how it all comes 360 degrees?

Our "moll" was not a prostitute.  Angela's fatal flaw was that she had the bad judgement to be dating Eddie Minuchi, the older criminal.  In the script, Angela came off as a busty, sultry and alluring woman in her twenties.

The first scene in the movie in which she appears goes something like this: Eddie and Angela pull up in a cab, Eddie has bought her lots of expensive presents (this is how he keeps her).  She is about to get out of the cab, the young guys help her.  When they open the door, she drops the presents, revealing her ample cleavage.  The guys ogle her and lose track of what they are doing, impressed by her cleavage.

Do you still wonder why we weren't at the Oscars that year?

These, as I point out, are the light moments.  The real road bumps?  Oh, they are ahead.

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